The question has been asked by every honest Christian and every person who has honestly sought the Lord, “How can a good God permit evil?” God’s answer can be a bitter pill going down, but a healing remedy once it has entered the bloodstream.
When confronting the idea of suffering Paul points beyond the affliction to the glory of God.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
If we believe in the God of the Bible we must look at any instance of evil, no matter how vile and ask not, “How much evil will this God allow?” but, “How good must the coming reality be that it will absorb and transmute even this abundance of evil or such distilled depravity?” In other words, the Resurrection reality to come must be so good that it will not only wipe away evil’s grisliest stains, but vindicate the goodness of the God who authored a reality in which evil exists. Thinking about reality in this way is a purposeful shift of focus. We must move our eyes from the evil that we have experienced, or are experiencing, to the good that God is creating. There are two ways we can adopt God’s perspective on evil, albeit from our limited vantage point, and begin to understand how he might have the resources to accomplish such a complete redemption. Paul says we must adopt God’s view of time and weight.
First, we must adopt the Lord’s viewpoint on time. We must not examine our suffering on the scale of our short lives, but calibrate our scope of time to the scale of eternity. Suffering considered over the span of 70 years will grow into a volcanic mountain, belching out smoke, and blocking out the light. If all we have is life under the sun, then we must grab all the happiness we can while we can and anything that gets in our way will be devastating. But, compared to the endless ages of eternal kindness that await the saints, that mountain is ground down to a pebble by the erosive power of God’s glorious grace (Ephesians 2:7). Given enough time a sufficient river will turn Everest into the Grand Canyon.
Second, we must place our suffering on the scale next to the weight of coming glory. Weight is the controlling factor in the gravitational pull of heavenly bodies. The weightier a thing is, the more of reality it pulls into its orbit. Whatever you give more weight to, either the light affliction or the weighty glory, will inevitably draw you into its field. The Bible does not shy away from declaring sin, including all the sin of which we are victims, as the horribly disgusting thing that it is. The text doesn’t sugar coat the matter. But the glory that is to be revealed has such substantial gravitas— such a super-dense mass— that one drop of its distillate will be sufficient to compensate for all griefs. A glimpse of it caused Stephen to forget the small matter of his present execution, “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55–56).
Facing affliction, we gaze into the face of the Afflicted One. Those who are in Christ have been given the gift of a tremendous and timeless perspective. God does not simply permit evil, he governs it, taking it up and wielding it as the weapon of its own defeat. There is no wrong so bad that He cannot and will not cause to it destroy itself and that, in the end, will not serve to magnify the very glory it meant to snuff out. There is a good intention more fundamental than the evil intentions of men and devils. Hear, O Christian, and rejoice, the axe of justice is laid to the root of the tree of evil and your dear Father strikes the blow. Shall we avoid the discipline of sons? Shall we not see that the Lord is leading us to our crosses by his definite plan and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23)? Let us, then, not lose heart, knowing that the greatest evil ever committed, the murder of the Son of God, brought about the greatest good wrought by the hands of our masterful Father, the redemption of the world!
If his suffering mattered so does yours.